A/N: This is the sequel to Take Flight, Human. Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed! You guys really helped me out with your criticism and praise. I hope you'll enjoy this one as much as the last. And after that long wait, I finally have chapter one finished. Here we go!

The Plan

Arévis sat in a spacious, cloth tent, a comfortable chill emanating from Sveta and her own remnant Red Magic, a shield of White Magic protecting them from the waves of roiling desert heat. This was the best arrangement she could come up with after the endless complaints she had received from the group. It couldn't be helped—the desert was a brutal, desolate place without any signs the burning heat would pale.

After they had crossed the pass from Valeria, they stopped briefly at a village for supplies; the inclusion of which was plenty of water and tents for all of them courtesy of Nevic, she recalled with a slight twinge of annoyance.

Strangely enough, she found herself draped in the heavy gray cloak she had received from the Mountain Village. The heat exhaustion got to her occasionally, so she used spare amounts of the water stocks to replenish her energy and control the temperature around her. She was mainly concerned with her skin burning, so when she could, Arévis employed still more magic as a defense against the sun's merciless rays.

Red Magic employed energy control, which was how she was able to freeze the contents in the atmosphere around her and weaponize the mass amounts of ice. However, there needed to be a good amount of moisture in the air for this to work, which was severely lacking in the vast Aridian planes. Breathing the dry air was difficult enough, but keeping her and her companions hydrated was a more important matter. She had tried small experiments after coming to this conclusion, and had managed to condense trace amounts of water into their supply when needed. She didn't take too much water from the air, however, as that would make it even more difficult to breathe. It was useful for cooling the water they already had, also, which in turn cooled their bodies.

Lately, she had been finding more access to her energy than ever before. It felt like reaching for a deep, hidden place inside of her, taking from the vast materials around her and channeling it through her stone. It was a process she was getting increasingly better at, learning always a more efficient way to conserve her energy. Her stone hardly felt like a necessity anymore—only a means to an end, the energy flowing through it as if it were a lame accessory, a toy even. Arévis wondered if she even needed it at all. She made a note to test this when there was more time. More training would be vital for their new objective.

Arévis turned to Nevic slowly, studying his cool, collected front. He seemed perfectly at ease traveling with them, as if they had been old friends like she and Terran, or a close sibling like Aithné. Arévis frowned at this comparison, for she was the only one with a sibling left in their group.

It bothered her, she noted. Nevic should, by all rights, be one of their greatest enemies at this point. However he tried to persuade her otherwise, she was convinced that he was dangerous to their mission. Even if he were a help… It was all a means to an end, she was sure of it. She narrowed her eyes slightly as she studied his dark appearance—he must have been burning in the heat. On their way to this spot, Nevic had been lagging more than usual, sweating and breathing hard from the heat exhaustion. She wasn't much better with her cloak, but it was a particularly strange sight to see Nevic so out of it. His head was rested against Void, sipping water sparingly, eyes half open. The sweat was pulling curls onto his forehead like a damp plaster.

The rest of them weren't much better, to be honest. Kirra was lying on the ground, her clothing scant, a pinkish burn forming on her skin. Terran and Aithné were leaned up against the tent also, reveling in the conditioned air and chattering about what the Aridian palace would be like, smiling and laughing. Arévis smirked slightly.

Employing an army at all wasn't something she had experience in doing, so it was a stretch to think this plan would work, even if Aridia held some animosity towards Valeria. It was a start, though. They had plenty other kingdoms to convince. Hopefully it would be easier with the most charismatic liar in Valeria—though she hoped deception wouldn't be necessary. As long as he followed her command, she could keep her suspicions at bay—at least from the rest of them.

"You said you've been there before…" Arévis said to Nevic. "What are we to expect?"

"Luxury, beauty…" He said vaguely.

She was expecting something useful. She took off her cloak to revel in the brief cold.

"And their armies?" She said expectantly.

"Extremely adept. If not for their contract with Valeria and their waning interest in world affairs, they would be a terrifying force to be reckoned with." Nevic stated. Whether or not that was good for them had yet to be seen.

"Weren't they once the most powerful kingdom in the world? Before Larshmandor, that is." Terran asked curiously.

"By far." Nevic said. "It is a wonder they are not today." He said more quietly.

"How strong is Adish's hold on them, really?" Arévis continued.

"There is no real way to tell until we get there. They could be completely indepted to Valeria, completely loyal to their god, or even completely indifferent to what happens. There's no way to tell." He reasserted.

"I hope this is worth it…" Kirra said spitefully, itching at her burns.

"What else is there to do?" Terran asked her. "It seems our only other options are 'run aimlessly,' or 'fight directly.'"

"There are other courses of action we could take…" Kirra mumbled.

"Like what?" Aithné cut in. Arévis felt a twinge of annoyance. This conflict would only hinder them.

"Well, we could start at a kingdom that isn't allied with our greatest enemy." She said hotly, aiming her stare at Arévis. Arévis met it boredly, hands encasing her stone, still emanating the cold they craved. She induced that Kirra found this fitting to her newly configured image of her as their leader.

"A suggestion, then?" Aithné urged.

"I—I don't know…" She threw her hands up in defeat before sitting up. "Valeria should have plenty of enemies…"

"Oh, wait a second…" Aithné said with heavy sarcasm. "That's right! Larshmandor is Valeria's greatest opposition. How could I forget?"

Kirra glared at her unpleasantly.

"I think we've exhausted our break. Don't you?" She asked the group, still somewhat annoyed.

Nevic threw his head back, sighing in resignation. He could probably use a longer break, she thought, but he'd be fine for now.

"Sure. I'm ready." Aithné said happily. She was getting quite a bit more golden as the sun burned brighter, hotter and higher in the midday sky. It must have been an Aridian trait, Arévis thought, else she would have been burnt by now. Terran, with his fair skin, was freckling violently and turning a pinkish shade of his usual cream.

"Nevic doesn't look so well." Kirra said worriedly.

"He'll be fine." Arévis said dismissively. After all, she was as adverse to the sun as he, and had to compensate with heavy, dark clothing also.

"I never was good at dealing with this." Nevic rasped, smiling. "Valeria is under constant ash and cloud cover… We have not adapted to the sunlight."

Arévis thought it might be a bit more severe for him—he didn't seem like a traveler by nature. Also, even she had lived in a bright and sunny (albeit mild) climate and wandered outside occasionally.

"How did you deal with it when you were in Aridia before?" Arévis inquired curiously.

"Light clothing… And there were healers that came to my aid." He glanced at her, still smiling at his own expense. She let a tiny smile escape her, looking over his pathetic countenance once more.

She focused for a moment, looking at her discarded cloak. Heavy clothing gave her heat exhaustion, but not enough clothing would make her burn… If only she had light clothing that covered everything. The undergarments to their Edajian armor would have been nice to have now. She'd make a note to buy new clothes in Aridia—or even just a large, white sheet if necessary.

As they packed up their belongings, Arévis released her flow of magic, not even sighing from the effects. She was definitely getting better at conserving energy. As soon as she let the barrier down, they could feel the heat creeping into the cloth tent immediately, stifling and draining.

Nevic pulled up his hood, slumping onto his staff while Zed converted obediently. Arévis waited for them to leave the tent reluctantly before following behind. Nevic folded the tent up without touching it, poles and all, stuffing into its package. There were three total, and they didn't take up very much space.

"Abandoning the cloak?" Nevic said wearily.

"I think I'll take my chances with burning to spare myself the heat exhaustion." She said pointedly. "You might want to try it."

He shivered. "No… Too much exposure." He said enigmatically, mounting Void with less of his usual grace. Arévis studied him for a moment more, thinking. He wasn't comfortable in anything but his battle gear, likely afraid of letting his guard down. However, that could purely be indoctrinated paranoia—every soldier had it bred into him or her. Or, he could be used to staying concealed… His nature certainly seemed secretive. Was even the face she was seeing now a façade? Was this really who "Nevic" was? What exactly was he running off of—what made him tick? Arévis let herself think about it for only a few more moments before focusing on directions.

"And you're certain this is the way to go?" She asked Nevic.

"I believe so." He said mutely. Perhaps she should have let him rest more… If he was disoriented, they'd all get lost in this deadly plane of gold and blue.

It was a wonder she wasn't blind by now. The sun, bigger than she'd ever remembered it being, beat down on the sand until she could see the waves of energy rising from the powdery substance, infecting everything at a slow, constant rate. The cactuses were long behind them, in the friendlier parts of the desert where Valeria melded with Aridia. She wondered when she'd see a body of water again.

There was also a part of her that was hard to contain—the excitement of finally seeing her favorite culture come to life. She had reveled in her studies at the academy, learning all there was to know about Aridia. Perhaps she had a good base knowledge, but Nevic had actually been there, experienced them for himself. She wondered if he could speak Ancient Aridian. She had read that most Aridians spoke both Aridian and Larshmandorian, ever isolated and attached to their old culture.

She had to prepare them for the event of an attack. Aridia was, as far as politics went, in league with Valeria. Their trade routes were dependent on one another, their gods cooperative… At least, before Nora had been killed. One hook of animosity was all she needed—something solid and bitter to dangle in front of them. She thought of the Mountain Village, their isolation blinding them to the horrors of their arrangement. If she could incite that mentality—the violent, hateful group think, she could possibly manage it.

But then again, what made her so arrogant to think they'd actually listen to a lowly peasant girl from the River Village? Aridia was prideful and powerful, isolated in their decadence and culture. Why would they cater to the whims of someone they didn't care about—someone with no merit? The weight of the matter was irrelevant if they wouldn't even listen to her. There were two strategies she could employ to gain their attention. The first involved Nevic. She did not know the full extent of Valeria's relationship with Aridia, but she did know that a Valerian battle mage (who had a weighted reputation there already) would cause a good stirring. The second was to show them exactly what she was capable of—what Aithné was capable of as well. That option was risky… If Aridia were to become their enemy, she did not want them to have the ability to quantify her power. If she showed them anything, she would have to hold back, as usual. Hopefully she could avoid that altogether. Again she found herself reliant upon Nevic. She was not pleased with this at all…

Then again, how else could she conduct this mission? If she didn't have someone well versed in politics, and with a high rank to boot, how would she have even gotten this far? It was convenient for now, she decided. She didn't need to act upon until it became an actual problem. Being passive would allow her to plan more. She'd have to have a discussion with Aithné to prepare her for all the possibilities.

There were a very limited amount of things on her agenda, essentially. First, gain power—with training, an army, political support, whatever it took… Second, free Dalot from his imprisonment. Third, acquire the knife that could kill a god. Then she'd gather all the seraphs and gods she possibly could, cause some sort of distraction for Adish, and direct one of her human companions to kill him.

Nora had said that they were able to imprison Dalot because many gods were there to hold him. That meant that god-god combat was evenly matched or downright impossible, and not to be considered. She couldn't expect to win with only Dalot. From what she'd seen so far, gaining the support of multiple—if even one—gods was nearly impossible. They were either far too concerned with nothing (that Arévis could quantify anyway), or afraid that they didn't have enough power to make a dent. She doubted the majority of them were even bothered about Adish's idea of a future.

This would be difficult.

If the gods could be herded like they were in the Dalot incident, then it could be done again. She only needed to find a good motivation in each of them… She needed to garner support in them slowly, while letting the others know of the power gained. If the other gods weren't aware that others had the same goal in mind—stopping Adish—then they'd fail to act out of an apathetic fear.

The plan was certainly clear in Arévis's mind, but she knew execution would be significantly harder to accomplish. If there were angles at all to use, they wouldn't be readily available to her. She'd have to dig deep.

"Nevic." She said suddenly, coming out of her reverie of thought.

Nevic turned towards her, eyes half-lidded. "Yes?" He replied politely.

"You grew up with Nora, did you not? You knew your mother." She inquired.

"I did. To some degree." He said weakly, still heavy with heat exhaustion.

"What insight has it given you? Into the mind of a god, I mean." She asked curiously.

"I… Well, her specifically… She seemed reluctant. I suppose she felt she had no control of her own decisions. If she wasn't obligated to protect her kingdom, she was obligated in her love of Adish. There was never a time I saw her rebel openly." He managed.

"So you knew Adish as well?" Arévis continued.

"Not really. He made himself scarce. Gods only make a point of being in our domain if it's absolutely necessary. For the most part, I've found them to be quite arrogant. Mortals aren't worth their time, so they only appear when they are obligated, or if they have an agenda. Never for the simple pleasure of being here." He clarified.

"But your mother—she was with you a good deal of your life, wasn't she?" She pressed.

"I suppose. But I was always traveling. If she wasn't there to take care of me in Valeria, I was either with the army, with my father, or working on diplomacy with other countries." Nevic's eyes rolled back a bit and he jerked himself awake, clinging desperately to Zed in his weakened state.

Arévis blinked and continued, unfazed by the display. "What is your father like?"

By this point, Aithné, Terran and Kirra were eying her a bit confusedly. She could feel the sentiments of incredulity peeling off of them. No, they weren't surprised that she was asking him intrusive questions in front of all of them—just that Nevic wasn't feeling well, and she was pressing him regardless.

Nevic smiled at that, some hidden sentiment of pride behind his eyes. "Oh, typical Valerian: smart, military-minded." He wiped a sheen of sweat off of his forehead, curls sticking to his temples and exposing more of the white skin beneath his hair. "Handsome." He added for good measure, smirking.

Arévis ignored the last remark.

"Your mother loved you, so I've heard… How attached were you to her?" She probed intensely.

"Arévis," Aithné said quietly, flying on her right side.

She ignored her as well.

Nevic didn't break eye contact. "Immensely." He said seriously.

She stared at him for a moment longer. "You've been reluctant to admit you've spent much time with your mother, however."

"And that demeans my relationship with her somehow?" He said, remaining calm.

"I admit, you seem to have an apathy toward her." She said smoothly, digging for a reaction.

"Is that based on what little information I've given you—or because you assume my grief would be more outward?" He said, suddenly more exhausted than before, irritation almost visible.

"I never mentioned her death. But you're right… You don't seem too broken up about it." Arévis commented lightly.

Aithné and the others were gaping at this point. If someone were going to stop her, they'd do it soon.

Arévis dared him silently to make a comeback—anything to point to real irritation or insult.

"I hold things inside just like you do." He said softly, sympathy in his voice.

Arévis's mask of indifference didn't flicker. But she thought it was interesting that he went to consoling her rather than defending his relationship with his dead mother. A diversion tactic? No. He simply did not know how to act in grief—because he wasn't really grieving. Perhaps it was a cynical assumption, but Kaleb would have agreed with her. She decided to push it.

"And what are you referring to, exactly?" Arévis stated calmly.

"I don't fault you for your seeming lack of regard about Kaleb." His brow knit in that sickening display of fake sorrow.

"I know you and he were close. I saw the look you had when he fell." Nevic continued.

"Then shouldn't I have expected something similar in your face when I told you about The Prince killing your mother?" Arévis jabbed.

"I apologize for not reacting how you expected." Nevic spat, "Though I was clearly affected. Anyone would have told you that."

"Yes… That's the problem." Arévis murmured absently.

"That's enough." A voice said unexpectedly. It was Terran.

"Leave him alone, Arévis. He's exhausted and grieving, and you're ribbing him about how he should act about it?" Terran said in disbelief.

"You're one to talk," Kirra threw at her. "I haven't seen you shed a single tear for my brother."

Arévis knew none of them harbored her suspicions. She supposed that was to be expected. She couldn't rely on others to understand her theories, except for Aithné perhaps.

"If I fell to pieces when something went wrong, I wouldn't be a very reliable leader, would I?" Arévis retorted.

"But I have the freedom to look weak?" Nevic asked, feigning friendliness.

Nevic was being quite antagonistic. He had never used this tactic before. To sway the others against her, he had to start somewhere, she supposed. But that would lose him his edge in gaining her trust, so he wouldn't go too far.

"And what if I said that's exactly why?" She tested.

"I still have my pride, don't I?" He joked softly. "What would I be without that?"

"You'd still be human." Arévis said. "Like Aithné, like Terran, like Kirra." Well, half human, she thought.

She could sense what his silence meant, staring at her intensely: But you wouldn't be as interested in me, would you?

"Perhaps you're right." Arévis relented nonchalantly. "There's no reason your grief wouldn't take a different form than the others'. Just as mine wouldn't."

Arévis remained unconvinced. But she couldn't allow this to go further, at least not with the others involved like this.

She stored the information about Nora and Adish. From what she had observed with Silvia and Ura, it didn't seem too far off. Gods were uninterested, preoccupied… Concerned with what was happening elsewhere.

She mused about the purpose of gods. They were here on earth to make the flow of life easier with magic—by regulating and distributing it to their human counterparts. They were assigned roles of guidance, to correct the direction of economy, trade, and disaster. They were basically humans' servants. Why then were they so aloof and distant? Perhaps they had grown arrogant in the assumption that their power made them greater, more privileged. Perhaps that's where Adish had gone wrong.

Gods and humans were supposed to work together to mold the earth to their greatest benefit. Why were gods uninterested in being here if that were the case? Where else did they go? Arévis had read about other realms of existence—is that where they focused all their energy? It was puzzling. Whenever the gods were first appointed, it seemed to make sense that they were eager to do so. It was a job made for the generous and caring. As old as they were now, something must have changed in their evolution. Even the younger generation of gods was rumored to be hardly concerned with human life. Obligations were still met, of course, like Marissa giving away stones and guardians—but every other care was lacking.

It could have been laziness. Soaking in their newfound glory and power, the gods could have grown complacent. Obligations would have grown thinner and less important—a chore. Their own affairs could have become more exciting, more worthy in holding their attention. This would have cut ties with the humans to a great degree.

Arévis thought harder about the gods' elevated position. Why did they have temples? It was true that gods could be called upon easily in a temple (as they demanded), but that used to be true anywhere. If a human was in dire need of a god's assistance, the place didn't matter at all. Gods had no troubles being where they needed to be; they could teleport. The temples were symbols, then. Each god wanted a dwelling place for humans to associate them with. Each god aimed to make their temple grander than the last before it, more beautiful and majestic. Temples were now a place of worship because the gods elevated themselves above human matters—above human cares.

That was the problem. The divide between their two kinds was what led to all of this dominion nonsense. Adish wanted control because he saw humans as below him. If he could control all the human nations like pieces on a game board, he'd be satisfied in his superiority. It was all about power, and who had more of it. Since humans were now viewed as objects, they were a thing to conquer rather than protect.

It made Arévis disgusted to think about. Their very purpose had been perverted and twisted into this careless battle. If she could manage it, she'd reverse the mindset instilled in the new generation, and form a new bond between gods and humans. She could see no use for being at odds with one another. She certainly didn't think the human race deserved to be looked down upon over a divide in magical ability. That wasn't the gods' to keep exclusively—it was for both of their kind. They were like springs to be shared and spread, tapped so that everyone could have a taste of the water.

Maybe seraphs were the answer. Gods seemed to be obsessed with making seraphs to up their advantage. Whoever had given the gods their power could have intended it to be a new evolution for the human race in general. After all—weren't gods simply humans given more power? Rather than just bestowing power with stones and guardians, maybe they should have been breeding incessantly. It would make sense to create a new race of those with comparable ability to weaken the divide.

Whatever was intended originally had failed. The Goddess of Balance was right—it was up to someone to correct it. There were fail-safes in place for this to happen. One was the knife—the weapon that only humans could use. Arévis was amused to think that if the gods had simply turned the new generation into seraphs, no one would be able to kill them. That, itself, was puzzling.

As she snapped out of her deep reverie, Arévis noted the sky turning a deep, tapering shade of orange-red-purple, fading on the endless horizon. They would have to set up camp soon, as they couldn't use the sun for direction at night.

Arévis pulled a stray hair out of her face, not quite used to wearing her hair down yet. It seemed to be more trouble then it was worth. How did Aithné do it? Maybe she should cut it shorter, like Kirra's. It didn't seem to get in the way of her archery like that.

"Shall we stop for camp soon?" Nevic inquired.

"Yes." She replied simply. "Are you all ready?"

"Definitely," Kirra said, the others agreeing with appreciate murmurs.

A swoop of gentle feathers, fur and scales whistled in the air as they landed.

"I need a good rest." Sveta said testily.

"Of course." Arévis answered, letting her revert into her pouch comfortably.

"If you'd be so kind as to set up the tents, Nevic." Arévis said mechanically.

"No problem." He replied in equal distance.

With this arrangement, none of them had to touch the contraptions. Nevic simply whisked them into their squarish, angular shape with a flick of his hand.

"As for sleeping arrangements…" Arévis started, thinking briefly. "There are three tents. I'll occupy a tent with Aithné. Who would like a tent to themselves?"

She watched as Aithné shifted a bit uncomfortably. Arévis felt the subtle rejection. She supposed Aithné was entertaining thoughts of being with Terran. That wouldn't be so bad, would it?

"Well, I can bunk with Nevic, I guess…" Terran said uneasily, ruffling the back of his light brown curls.

"Perhaps Nevic should have his own tent." Kirra suggested, looking worried.

Ah. Kirra didn't want to sleep alone.

"Perhaps you're right." Arévis said softly. She'd share a tent with Kirra out of duty, but she doubted that Kirra would appreciate it. She didn't want to disappoint Aithné more than she already was, so she wouldn't put her with Kirra either.

"Terran and Kirra will have a tent, and Nevic will be on his own." Arévis concluded, heading towards the middle tent in their semicircle arrangement. "We can switch later if anyone needs to."

Kirra stood awkwardly for a moment, looking at Arévis with a confused sort of compassion. She bowed her head and slipped inside the first tent, eyeing Terran a bit.

Nevic hadn't moved. Before Arévis reached the heavy brown cloth of her tent, she hesitated.

"Is there a problem?" She asked him.

"No, of course not." He said quickly, packing his things over his shoulder and heading inside.

When Aithné joined her on the sand-molded ground, she looked more than a little disgruntled.

"Oh, don't be so dramatic." Arévis murmured, wrapped in a light blanket. She found an odd comfort in seeing a ceiling over her head when resting. It reminded her of her tiny dome in the River Village.

Aithné flopped down beside her and propped her head up on her elbow, rolling her eyes.

"I wasn't." She said, determined to deny her attitude. Arévis was amused by her haughty, petulant mood.

She smirked, partially to rile her up a bit more.

"I wanted to speak with you. You can switch tents later if you like. I didn't think Kirra would have appreciated sharing a tent with me—I'm sure you can agree on that much at least." Arévis threw out.

Aithné shifted a bit. "I see." She looked pleased at the notion of talking with her. There had been much she'd been wishing to share with Aithné, but time and company had restricted her.

"However," Aithné started, aloofness to her voice, "You could have just as easily placed Kirra with Nevic." Her gaze was intense, testing.

Arévis blinked. "I hadn't thought of that."

"Sure you had." Aithné retorted. "You think of everything." And now she was the one smirking slightly, staring intensely with that bright gaze.

"What is it that you're implying?" Arévis said boredly.

"Only that you considered it for less than a second. It seemed like an impossible option only because you didn't want Kirra with Nevic." Aithné said, pouting a little.

Arévis took in Aithné's angle for a moment. Somehow it was fitting that all of Aithné's features were expressive—gentle brown eyes, large and lined with Aridian-style thick lashes. She looked like a princess, golden and scorned.

Sleeping arrangements beyond her and Aithné didn't seem all that important to her. She hadn't really considered Aithné's feeling on the matter.

"You're still being dramatic… Besides, who do you think has a likelier chance of seducing Kirra?" Arévis pointed out. "Terran is perfectly harmless to her psyche right now."

"So you admit that you're worried about it!" Aithné accused.

Arévis rolled her eyes. "I'm beyond the petty line of thinking you're trying to pin on me. And it has much to do with what I'm about to discuss with you."

"Please, continue then." Aithné said with a slight growl. "But I'm sure everyone can hear us anyway. We're not that far apart."

Arévis held up her left hand, the ice-blue stone grasped firmly between her fingers.

"Ah… You've enchanted our tent with White Magic." Aithné mused out loud, eyes going wide in wonder. "Good thinking."

"Thank you." Arévis said modestly, tucking her hand back under the blanket.

"I can feel the heat of the sand through the ground." Aithné said, shifting a little.

"Desert nights will be much more pleasant than mountain ones, it seems." Arévis commented lightly.

"Arévis…" Aithné said softly, a look of concern etched on her face. "What do you really think of Kaleb being gone?"

Arévis' calm little smile slid of her face. She stared at the bland brown of the tent's ceiling, draping down a small degree from its wooden braces.

"I…" Arévis said reflexively, gathering her words. "I wish it hadn't come to that." Her lips were pressed together tightly.

Aithné frowned a little, still waiting.

She looked at her sister face-to-face. "I always think of him… Of the decision I made. There was nothing else that could have been done; we had to be saved…" It sounded almost like a plea even to her ears.

No, this isn't what Aithné wanted to hear. Logic was easy to express. She wanted something more real—something Arévis had trouble giving.

"He and I were good friends. Perhaps the best friend he's had, from what he's told me—he was always alone, isolated in his displeasure. " She said quickly, taking a breath. "He's a product of bottled up frustrations, of musings and thoughts that no one would listen to… Incredibly smart, but ultimately…" Arévis sighed, nodding a little, "Not worth all of our lives. The heir to the Larshmandorian throne, perhaps, but I stick to my decision. I do not regret saving all of us."

Aithné looked sad, intent on what she was saying.

"I miss him, Aithné. I cared for him greatly." She finished.

Aithné was brimming with empathy, emotion always so transparent to her.

"You should tell Kirra." Aithné said softly. "You should tell her how much you really do care."

"There's no point." Arévis said calmly. "She doesn't want to listen to what I have to say. Even if I had been prepared to tell her anything of what I feel, she'll hear what she wants. What she wants right now is to assign blame—and for that, I don't fault her. She can blame me all she wants, since it was I who condemned him."

"That's not right, Arévis…" Aithné said dejectedly, the sadness still on her face.

"You shouldn't worry about that. It's inconsequential. I need to talk to you about Nevic."

"I disagree with you… But alright." Aithné said with unease. She perked up a bit when she mentioned Nevic.

"What is your impression of him, first of all?" Arévis inquired, observing her deeply.

"We're lucky to have him as our ally. I don't think we could have made it this far without him. In fact, I'm glad he's on our side—I think we've even become friends." She said, smiling. Arévis could see that she was hiding some of her thoughts.

"Is that all you think?" Arévis asked slyly.

"I don't share your suspicions, if that's what you mean." Aithné said. "He's done nothing to prove that he isn't on our side."

"He should be proving the opposite." Arévis said adamantly.

"Why do you want to punish him so much? He's been helping us of his own free will all this time, and all you do is treat him like a Valerian spy." Aithné said casually.

"I understand." Arévis said, disappointed.

"Well, wait." Aithné said, sensing her distress. "I'm not saying it isn't weird… I just think his motivation is, well, not what you think it is."

"What do you think it is, then?" Arévis asked.

"Oh, don't pretend you don't know…"

Arévis frowned slightly. "I'm not pretending. Only asking."

"He's obviously quite smitten with you." Aithné said finally. "Does someone really need a better reason?"

Arévis was glad that point was out in the open. It was easier to tear it apart that way.

"Yes, someone like Nevic does." Arévis said. "I've been studying him."

"And what have you found out? That he's inhuman—well, besides the point of him being a seraph, of course?" Aithné said sarcastically.

"No… That he's extremely driven. He's calculating and precise." Arévis began, suspicion apparent in her words.

"Oh…" Aithné pretended to be confused for a moment. "So like you, then?"

Arévis deadpanned at her. Then she smiled. "Yes, let's say he's like me, then."

Aithné looked a little miffed that her scenario had been turned on her.

"And I wouldn't stop what I was doing simply because I felt an attraction towards someone." Arévis said. "He's been planning something from the beginning."

"The only motivation I saw in the beginning was him being interested in you and asking you to lunch." Aithné said boredly, idly picking sand out of her hair.

"It's only a pretense. He saw it as an opportunity—if he's attracted to me in addition to that, it's just an added bonus for his excuses."

"You are beyond paranoid…" Aithné spouted exhaustedly.

Arévis frowned. This was beginning to look futile.

"Let's say for a second that you actually believed me," Arévis started with a new tactic.

"Hey, come on… I'm listening…" Aithné defended, a little hurt.

"You haven't even admitted that my theory has some merit."

"Okay, it has some merit."

"Now you're just humoring me."

Aithné looked supremely frustrated, turning to lie on her back. "Agh. What do you want from me?"

"I don't need you to agree with me…" Arévis said, determined. "But I do need you to be aware of some possibilities so that we can plan for them."

"I can do that." Aithné said, trying to quell the conversation.

"If Nevic turns on us… You'll have to be prepared to kill him." Arévis said seriously.

"Arévis, I'm not as good as y—"

"I don't know what his plan is, so that's why I'm trying to prepare. We're going to train when we get to Aridia. While we try to gain a political advantage, we're going to be training constantly. I want you to get as good as me or better."

"How can you ask that of me? Even in school… No one could beat you." Aithné pled, slightly angry at her demand.

"It's a matter of necessity, not pride or self-esteem. You're going to have to let go of that train of thought. You're a seraph. You and I are the only ones that can kill Nevic if he turns on us."

"If he turns on us, then we can do it together." Aithné offered.

"That's an obvious scenario." Arévis dismissed. "I'm speaking of desperate cases."

Aithné was silent for a while.

"Did you ever consider that maybe he has a plan that he's hiding… but that it will benefit us?" Aithné said.

"We don't have time for optimism."

Aithné sighed. "No wonder you and Kaleb got along…"

Arévis stared at her for a moment. She was surprised at being insulted by that.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that." She said, facing her sister again.

"No, you're right. Kaleb would have listened to me." She bit out.

Aithné looked shocked.

"I'm not discounting your theory. I'm just saying it's unlikely, from what I've observed." Aithné said.

"Then you're missing things." Arévis said bluntly. "How about his ease with people? He's befriended you, Terran and even Kirra easily. You had trouble getting along with Kirra and Kaleb, and obviously Terran has been close to you for a while."

"So being friendly is a bad thing?" Aithné asked.

"He's not being friendly. It's a strategy. Besides—what do you actually know about Nevic? Have you heard his stories, his feelings, his ambitions? He doesn't talk about these things. You can't really know a person if you don't dig beneath the surface."

Aithné frowned slightly. "He's a private person, that's all."

"I believe so too. But why would a person who's private in nature be so outgoing? Kaleb definitely isn't like that."

"No offense, but Kaleb was bitter and lonely. I doubt he even knows how to be nice to be people." Aithné said as gently as she could.

"How do you know Nevic isn't that way, either? He's just more skilled at hiding things, and at manipulating people." Arévis proposed.

Aithné shrugged indifferently.

"What about his lying?" Arévis asked. "Don't tell me it doesn't worry you that he lies to us so easily."

"So what if he lied to you about Valeria being after you specifically? I can only see that as a good thing. You would have had us all stay back, and then you would have been killed or tortured. What hope would we have then?" Aithné said passionately.

Arévis ignored the outburst. "It wasn't just then. He lied easily to the people living in the Mountain Village. He did it with such ease, and with barely any thought. It came to him naturally."

"I thought we'd already established that Nevic is a very skilled person. At that point, we required a lie to keep our cover. You should be happy that he saved us. If you'll recall—had he not lied, they would have attempted stoning us to death sooner." Aithné defended. "You're acting as if he's not a genius or a powerful battle mage. You know that's not true—he's a godsend to our mission."

Arévis chuckled derisively. "Yes, he certainly is a godsend. Haven't you learned by now that gods are not to be trusted unconditionally? There are plenty of seraphs looking for a share of their parent's power—Nevic could be one of them."

"How would he do that now? His mother is dead." Aithné said dryly.

"Adish isn't. It doesn't necessarily have to be his mother. He could be working directly for Adish. We know that Adish has been controlling Nora and her kingdom, so how could Nevic truly respect that? He'd want a piece of the power vein directly." Arévis reason.

"When has Nevic ever looked for power? He doesn't want control of our goals, he doesn't want control of his armies… What does he want control of?"

"Ah, but he's subtle. He won't challenge me for power, because then he can't gain my trust. He's abandoned his armies only briefly. If he didn't want power, why would he accept the position of top battle mage?"

"Maybe he wanted his father's approval or something." Aithné shrugged.

"Why didn't you say his mother's?" Arévis asked. She paused for a moment, watching Aithné's surprise.

"I don't know…" She said honestly.

"Because you notice it too. He hardly seems attached to his mother." Arévis said.

"You're reading into it. It's like you said—he doesn't express things openly."

"If he's our friend… he has no reason not to." Arévis countered.

"Okay, Arévis. I can see where you're going with this. I'll admit that there's a possibility that he's a spy… or something. Even though he probably would have killed us by now." She added as an afterthought.

"He wouldn't try killing us right now. He's outnumbered." Arévis stated logically.

Aithné settled on her back, folding her hands. "I'm tired, Arévis. I'll train hard like you want when we get to Aridia. But I'm not going to start being outwardly antagonistic to Nevic. Especially since, if you are right about this, it would be pretty counterproductive to make him think you weren't convinced."

Arévis frowned a little as she thought about that. "Hm…" She furrowed her brow. "Maybe you're right about that. Maybe I should be pretending…"

"That's not what I meant." Aithné sighed exhaustedly.

"Maybe he'd give me more information that way, if he thought I trusted him." Arévis said.

"Arévis, that's really cruel… Besides, I think you're attracted to him too." Aithné threw out.

"That's irrelevant. But I'll consider your strategy."

"It's not a strat—never mind. Goodnight, Arévis."

"Goodnight. I'm going to go talk to Nevic." And with that, Arévis got out of bed and whisked past the tent's door flap.

A/N: I have a lot planned for this, so I hope you guys will enjoy it. Again, any criticism is helpful. Predictions about Nevic's loyalties would be interesting to hear about. Thanks for taking a look!